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Friday, February 17, 2012

iPad based social media in the classroom part 2

So this one will be a bit obtuse, because the social media site I'll refer to here (the name rhymes with  "Macelook") doesn't like it when this project happens.  It requires students to create fake accounts, which the social-media-site-which-can't-be-named, hereafter to be called "Voldebook," actively tries to discourage. In fact, I have a student who created a page for a school project in another class and was subsequently banned from using Voldebook...So I shall not attract their direct attention by using their name, thus incurring their wrath and risking my own account...

In any event, my students are tasked with creating Voldebook pages for the explorers/travelers Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Zheng He and Rabban Sauma.  They are to imagine that these men had access to Voldebook, and then replicate status updates they would have made on their travels.  Students compile biographical information, pictures, maps, video clips that demonstrate what they would have seen/done/thought along the way.  Students work in groups of up to 5 (depending on class size) to create and populate the pages.  Each student must post at least 10 times, posts begin with the year and their initials (so I know who they are) and posts must happen in chronological order.

Students have 4 days of time in class (never a whole period, usually about 20 minutes) to coordinate the posting of the status updates (Voldebook won't allow simultaneous log-ins from more than two or three devices before it sends a message demanding a cell phone number to confirm the poster is a human being...if the cell number matches another one on file, they shut down both the new page and the old one...) assign years for research, and check in about progress. On the 5th day, students are required to have the pages done and ready to be assessed. Many groups establish a Google Doc, input their posts there and have a designated student make the actual posts on the Voldebook page.

Once the pages are populated with the status updates, the students then comment on each others' trips in the character of their explorers.  For instance, Ibn Battuta, the Muslim legal expert, responds to Rabban Sauma, the Nestorian Christian Mongol envoy, and so on.  Students are assessed based on the realism of their posts, the depth of their research (demonstrated in the wall posts), the clarity of their posts, usefulness of the images/videos/maps they used, and meeting the required numbers for posts.

The students seem to get pretty excited to be using Voldebook for school, and they display a great deal of versatility in making use of the capacities of this form of social media; they regularly exceed my expectations with the creation of these pages, and demonstrate their understanding of the material in very creative ways.

Benefits for students include:
#1 They come as close to walking in the explorers' footsteps as we can get and still stay home.
#2 They gain a very detailed knowledge of the explorers' journeys, and compare and contrast them.
#3 They have to articulate their understanding publicly, concisely, and in more than just printed words
#4 They then have to "inhabit" the explorer's minds in order to reply in character, developing empathy with a person very different from themselves.
#5 They work collaboratively to do research and develop a consistent voice as the explorer.
#6 They get to articulate their understanding in a medium in which they have a great deal of fluency and expertise.
#7 They have fun finding groups to join, music to like, friends to make, relationships to establish for imaginary, yet historically very well defined, characters.

Drawbacks for students:
#1 The aforementioned restrictions and sanctions of Voldebook make some students have some trepidation about risking their own personal access to it--it is a vital part of their communication, so the loss of it is quite scary.

#2 A small number of students are forbidden by parents from using Voldebook. They also are not permitted to have their own email addresses.  The parents are attempting to remain in control of their child's access to social media and electronic communications, usually out of fear of predators and pornographic influences present in the inter-webs.

Benefits for the teacher include:
#1 A very creative project in terms of outcomes, with no material costs to me or my department. (No paper, glue, scissors, markers, etc. needed.)
#2 Products which are impossible to contain in a folder are highly portable and easily assessable.
#3 Students are motivated, excited and enthusiastic to learn about long dead men.
#4 Students learn geography, history, political science, religion, and economics in a hands-on manner, and express that understanding in a manner that is comfortable and accessible to them.
#5 The interconnected-ness of the world is demonstrated in a way that helps students understand that the contemporary notion of globalization is not a new one.

The apps used for this were My Pad and the social media sites' own app, neither of which was satisfactory for the students.  Many ended up logging in to the page through the iPad's various browser options, as that enabled the website's greater functionality.

There are alternatives to Voldebook, like Fakebookapp and Myfakewall, but those don't allow for interactivity, just the creation of a mock page.  Twiducate and edmodo have some shared functionality with Voldebook, but again fall short and aren't great with the iPad.  I'm hopeful to find a viable alternative, but as yet, one eludes me.

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